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Health+Harvest

Rural Hospitals In Illinois Face Staffing, Transfer Problems As COVID-19 Surges

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As hospitalizations due to COVID-19 remain at record levels, hospitals that serve small towns and rural areas in Illinois are facing unique challenges.

When patients in rural hospitals need more intensive care to treat COVID-19, physicians often move them to larger hospitals, which may be better equipped to care for them.

Pat Schou, executive director of the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network – an association of more than 50 rural hospitals, said as larger hospitals fill up, transfers are getting more difficult.

“It takes calling two, three, four or five places before you can find an open bed,” Schou said. “And it worries the family members, it worries staff.”

Hospitalizations in Illinois due to COVID-19 remain at higher levels, at around 6,000 people every night, than in recent months.

Schou said rural hospitals are having to keep patients longer while waiting for a bed to open up in a larger hospital. They still provide quality care to the patient, said Schou, but it strains staff.

Meanwhile, like larger hospitals in Illinois, rural hospitals are having a hard time finding enough nurses, doctors and other staff to treat an influx of COVID-19 patients.

Schou said the smaller hospitals are often at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring staff.

“It's become a bidding war, and salaries have gone for an agency nurse instead of... $50 an hour, it's $150 an hour,” she said. “There's some real challenges.”

Schou said hospital leaders are focusing on being able to care for COVID-19 patients over the next two to three months, as the surge continues. But they also are worried about the long-term financial fallout of pandemic.

About half the patients in small hospitals serving small towns and rural areas in Illinois are sick with COVID-19.

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